Flex zone options were proposed by Humble ISD to fix elementary school overcrowding.

Humble ISD held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 18, 2016, for new elementary and middle schools to be built in The Groves, a 993-acre wooded housing development off W. Lake Houston Parkway between Atascocita and Summerwood. The new elementary school represents the 28th elementary campus and is designed for 950 students.

Middle School 9, also located in The Groves, will open in August 2018 as a 200,000-square-foot facility for 1,050 students. The cost for both totals $67 million. A bond referendum approved by voters in 2008 provided funds to purchase the land, construct both campuses and furnish the new schools.

These two schools are the first of six new campuses that are needed due to Humble ISD's growing enrollment. Rezoning of neighborhoods was always part of the district’s plan, which has been in work for over a year. The district first revealed the plan to the public last November in a series of town hall meetings to gain community input. The plan called for certain neighborhoods currently zoned to Atascocita Springs (ASE) and Eagle Springs (ESE) elementaries to be rezoned to the new school, and some neighborhoods to be rezoned from ESE to ASE. Concerned parents made their voices heard at December town hall meetings, and expressed frustration that ultimately, the district presented only a single rezoning option. Some parents, who had been through previous rezoning exercises, said at the December meeting that the district typically presented several options for community consideration. Participants were also upset that the plan seemed rushed through to ensure it was voted on at the December school board meeting. There was also concern verbalized that the plan affected an unnecessarily large number of students – 600 in all – even though only 250 need to be moved to alleviate overcrowding. Furthermore, residents described the plan as one-dimensional, only accounting for student numbers and not considering other factors such as safety, bus and walking routes, and commute times.

The meeting was emotional and tense. Humble ISD administrators and board members, sensing strong pushback, offered to accept online feedback. Due to the overwhelming response, the school board deferred the planned Dec. 13 vote to allow time to consider community input.

Another town hall meeting, held Jan. 26, provided information on the elementary attendance zoning and addressed related middle and high school attendance areas for families affected by the rezoning.

The district, despite the outcry, kept to the original, single plan, stating that it was a product 11 months in the making. This proposal results in 883 students at ASE, 714 students at ESE and 538 students at the new elementary school in The Groves next year.

Additionally, the district presented a new flex-plan option that creates two flex zones to allow parents living in 25 areas more say about where their children attend school. Students have an option of attending the school to which they are zoned or attending the new school in The Groves with bus transportation provided. As parents exercise the flex option, enrollment should be reduced at ASE, ESE and Lakeshore elementaries. Any child can potentially attend the new school by applying for official transfer, and there is also a Spanish immersion program to which students can apply.

However, the district’s plan isn’t the only one that was developed. Eagle Springs residents developed their own. The community-developed plan suggests moving students from Claytons Park and Claytons Corner over to The Groves. The logic behind the plan is that the two Claytons neighborhoods don’t have a school in their neighborhood and they already need bus service to go to their current schools. Since the district must only move 250 students to alleviate ASE/ESE overcrowding, and since about the same number of students live in Claytons, the residents feel that their plan makes sense, instead of the first district option that affects nearly 600 kids.

Victoria Woo is an ASE parent who was involved in developing the “community option.”

“We are not targeting the Claytons neighborhoods by any means, but instead we are just looking at the numbers and logistics, and so we think our plan makes more sense,” Woo said. All ASE and ESE students would stay where they are, as opposed to the district’s option which would create eventual overpopulation at The Groves school and does not take into account functional capacities of all three schools. The residents are concerned that the flex plan won’t work either, citing the uncertainty of enrollment and the expense of the bus perks as issues.

Woo said that their plan does a better job measuring up to the district’s own criteria of minimizing student relocation, keeping travel distances short, minimizing bus service and keeping the neighborhood school concept.

Petition signatures from 209 Eagle Springs residents were gathered in just under a week, with 150 responses collected in a single day. Of the 209 responses, 2.4 percent preferred the original committee plan, 4.8 percent preferred the flex plan and 92.8 percent preferred the ES alternate plan. Additionally, 97.6 percent of residents felt strongly that Eagle Springs residents should stay at their neighborhood schools.

At the January board meeting, Woo asked the board to consider these factors before implementing the district options. The board promised to consider the third plan, and discussed it in a special Feb. 7 board workshop. Minutes of the meeting were approved at the Feb. 14 board meeting.

Woo said that while several board members seem receptive to the plan, Humble ISD Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Dr. Roger Brown has not been receptive, and the community is frustrated because repeated requests for enrollment figures, numbers of economically disadvantaged students, and other demographic data went unanswered by Brown. Woo finally had to request the information via an Open Records Request to get the information for the Eagle Springs community.

Woo again addressed the school board at the Feb 14 meeting, asking the board to consider the community-developed plan once again.

Lapeze told Woo that Humble ISD has not opened a new elementary school in a number of years, and that they had all learned a lot in the process, and had a long way to go.

“None of us are happy about how this turned out; nevertheless we have to get the school open,” said Lapeze.

The board approved the flex zones by a 5-2 margin, with Sitton and Nancy Morrison voting against the measure. Neither responded to a request for an explanation of their votes. Lapeze described the flex zones as an experiment that would either work or not work.

"I voted no to the Flex Plan on Feb.14, and I would have voted no to the original committee recommendation as well. I am frustrated with the process and the late addition of community meetings. Dr. Fagen has expressed to the board that the flex plan is the best option for today but a better more inclusive process will be implemented going forward," said Sitton.

“We’ll know in a hurry whether it works or not, and we can always change it with the committee,” said Lapeze.

He was referring to the Student Attendance Area Committee who developed the initial lone option. The committee is comprised of 12 people representing middle schools and two community members. Residents were critical of the perceived homogeneity of the committee’s composition because no elementary or high school representatives were included, and because it is unclear where the two community members reside.

"Humble ISD has opened nine schools in the past 10 years and utilized a Student Attendance Area Committee to make boundary recommendations. The committee is designed to represent the interests of the entire district. Middle school parents have traditionally been sought for parent representation because they have a unique vantage point. They are knowledgeable about the district from their child's elementary school experiences and committed to the future through high school graduation. The district is currently looking at updating its processes related to future boundary changes based on feedback we have received from all stakeholders," said Jamie Mount, Humble ISD director of communications.

“Many of our fellow residents are not here tonight because they feel they don’t have a voice and felt like the board was just going to steamroll along,” Woo said, “What bothers me the most is that Dr. Brown never really acknowledged our plan; he never said whether he had reviewed it and never told me why it wouldn’t work. I feel like I was owed that much as common courtesy. When I asked him to review our plan against the district’s own criteria, he said they were just guidelines, even though their own committee used them too! It’s frustrating because we feel like we’ve been brushed aside.”

Brown did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

"All input was taken seriously and every option considered. The district listened to parents and developed flex zones to allow families the two options. The district surveyed parents at Atascocita Springs, Eagle Springs and Lakeshore elementary schools and results show that approximately 500 students are interested in enrolling in the new elementary school 28," said Jamie Mount.

Meanwhile, affected residents begrudgingly enter into an uncertain future, dreading zone establishments for the new middle school, now that ES 28 is now set. Parents wishing to exercise their flex option must do so by March 31; more information on that process is posted at humbleisd.net.

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